So you want to study a martial art. Awesome! Studying Budo offers many benefits and is one of the most enriching experiences you can undertake. But with so many, which one to choose? And how do you know which art is right for you? And once you figure out which is the right martial art, you still have to find an actual school to train in. What do you need to look for?

This can be pretty daunting, especially if you’re like me and are very picky: if I am going to spend time and money dedicating myself to a pursuit, I want it to be the absolute best – for me.

Here, we’re going to give you a process that you can follow to find the perfect art for you.

This guide will break this process into steps so that you can narrow in on the best martial art and school for you. To make it easier, we broke this into 4 steps:

  1. How to pick the right art
  2. What to look for in a Martial Arts school
  3. How to go about trying a class
  4. Choosing a place to make a commitment

It might not be us, and that’s ok

To be clear, you might not end up training here. While we’d love to have you as a student, we understand we might not be the best fit for you. If Todai is not the place for you – don’t worry – your perfect school is out there.

Picking the Right Art

So, why do you want to study a martial art? Odds are there are multiple reasons you’re interested, but there’s probably one core reason driving you. If you can identify this, you can help narrow down what you want to study.  Luckily, you won’t necessarily sacrifice one goal completely for another.

Writing your Goals

Start by writing down 5 goals for your training. Once you’ve done that, review each one and see if you want to switch anything out.  Once you feel set on those 5, immediately cross out two. This is a bit harder, since you have to choose what’s not so important.

Now you’re left with 3 that are your core goals. Finally mark which of these 3 is the most important – either with a star, arrow, or circle: this is your primary goal that you feel is the most important and won’t compromise on quality. The other two are “bonuses” for deciding. Your list will look like this:

  • Self Defense ← Most Important
  • Physical Fitness
  • Discipline
  • Weapons
  • Focus

Armed with your goal list, you can hop online and start googling, watching videos, and see what art seems to appeal to your goals. For example, this is how Ninjutsu stacks up:

Using Ninjutsu as an Example

Which goals makes Ninjutsu ideal

  • Tradition: Our art is on the more traditional end of the spectrum – so if one of your goals is to learn more about Japanese culture – then we’re a good fit.
  • Self Defense: The art itself and how we train is very focused on being practical, making it effective for self defense.
  • Learn Weapons: if you goal is to learn weapons, then you’d also be hard pressed to find an art that is as encompassing as Ninjutsu: we study both ancient mainland Japan weapons and modern weapons as well.

What goals aren’t a good fit?

  • Competition: If you’re looking for a competitive or sport art, then Ninjutsu is probably not ideal. While we do some sparring, we don’t do it to the degree that other arts due and there aren’t competitions.

A word of caution: everyone thinks their art is the best, so expect a lot of opinions. I think our art is great for self defense while others may disagree. Try to get a wide range of opinions and follow your intuition.

After this, you should have been able to narrow in on a couple of martial arts that resonate well with what you want to learn.

Looking for Martial Arts Schools

Depending on how widely available the art you want to study is, you’ll want to find a few nearby schools. More common Martial Arts – like Taekwondo or Karate – might have a half dozen schools in your neighborhood. Harder to find arts (like ours) might mean driving a half hour to even a few hours to find a dojo.

Important Questions about the school

Once you find something reasonably close, look into the school and the teacher: is this a reputable place and does this person know what they’re doing? Here are some key questions:

  • Are they accredited in the art they are teaching?
  • How long have they been training?
  • How are they viewed by the Martial Arts community?

It never hurts to write down or note the answers so you can compare schools. For each school you should have something like this:

  • Todai Bujinkan Dojo
    • Scott Hamilton, Bujinkan Shidoshi 8th Dan
    • Began training in 2006
    • Overall positive within the Bujinkan

Buyer Beware

As we mentioned in our article Beware the McDojo, there is no official certification to become a Martial Arts instructor: anyone can open a school and dub themselves a “Master”. It’s important that you do a little digging into the main instructors background to make sure they can back up their claims.

Look at Reviews

Reviews will also help give you an idea of the clientele, the atmosphere, and their focus. If you’re an adult looking for hardcore self defense and all the reviews are from Moms talking about their 10 year old improving their grades, then it’s probably not a good fit. A little extra research can go a long way.

Again, make sure to note things so you can contrast and compare:

  • Todai Bujinkan Dojo
    • 4.9/5.0 on Google, Yelp
    • High Points: Good Atmosphere, Welcoming, Challenging, Immersive
    • Low Points: Limited sparring, not good fit for young kids

Trying a Class

At this point, you should have narrowed down the Martial Arts that you want to study and found some nearby schools that look promising. Now for the exciting part – trying your first class!

Some schools might have their classes segregated based on experience level, while others may teach all students together. Either way, you want to make sure you are getting a real class. Not only do you get a real idea of the training, but you can interact with other students.

If you feel intimidated by trying a class, ask to see if you can observe a class. This isn’t as exciting as participating, but you can at least get an idea of the training.

Caution on Introductory lessons

Some schools may suggest you take a “private” or “intro” lesson to start with. This might be to help get you prepped for training (which is great), but it could also be a selling tactic. Go through the process and be polite, but make sure you get to try an actual class before making a purchase. If they aren’t willing to let you try things out before buying – or use hard selling tactics – you’d be better served elsewhere.

Choose to Commit

Now we come down to our final step. You’ve reflected on why you want to train, researched the arts that fit best with your reasons, found a few schools that teach your chosen art, and have at least attended a few different classes to try things out.

Assuming you’ve tried classes at all your prospective schools, it’s decision time: where are you going to train?

Base it on the “Vibe”

Ultimately, this is going to come down to you – which school/instructor did you have the best “vibe” with? Sure, there may be differences in price and schedule; the former tends to run anywhere between $80-$200 a month while the latter tends to be evenings and weekends. However, if this is something you really want to do, you’ll make the time and money for it.

Be Committed

Remember, training in a martial art – like any other worthwhile pursuit – is a long-term commitment. Commitment requires sacrifice. So make the necessary sacrifices to get what you really want, and you’ll never regret it.

We hope this guide was helpful in finding the right art and school for you. We’d love to know what you ultimately decided on, and any feedback on how we can improve this guide for others like you.

And if we’re one of the Martial Arts and schools you are considering – and haven’t done so yet – feel free to contact us to schedule your class to try things out.

Good luck on your journey!


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